Dec 28 2009

Shriek: An Afterword

Published by at 3:23 pm under Books

by Jeff VanderMeer

This book tells an imaginary history of two imaginary people in an imaginary place which is not unusual for a novel, but these are more imaginary than most. One of the two is pretty normal, but the second becomes pretty unusual. Not speculative fiction, not science fiction, but a literally ‘fantastic’ story with a bit of a surreal feel; very clever and imaginative. The story of a brother and sister told through an “afterword” to a book that the brother wrote. The afterward is written by the sister with comments added by the brother who apparently reappeared after the sister somehow abandoned the afterward. The story is well written and plays out gradually and nicely as a meandering story, not a gripping page turner. Much is implied and little is explicit.
The setting is a world with a usual dose of conflicting governments and organizations and it includes one war (ended in a “festival”), but it is not a tale of large scale action. There are a few other characters in addition to the imaginary authors, but fungi and mysterious beings who live underground but intermingle with the people are the ambiguous focus. The fungi constitute some kind of sentient entity that is gradually taking over a city. Not really taking over explicitly, but that seems inevitable (nothing is explicit).
The brother is fascinated by the fungi, goes exploring underground, and through the course of the story is merging with the fungi (at least some of them live in and on him but he has some control over them). The overall feel of the book is a little like 2001 (the movie); a migration toward something unknown, but ‘bigger’ than normal reality. As if the fungi and people coexisted in the same space and only occasionally interacted.
An unusual aspect is there was almost no technology in the story. Casual mention of telephone, boat, and automobile. Most travel is by foot. The fungi, however, can make weapons out of fungi! Makes some sense when you read it. Weird and I can’t describe it at all well, but it was a pleasant imaginative read.

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